Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Wet & Wild Thanksgiving, part 1

There are people who embrace completely unreasonable adventures -- rowing across the atlantic, hiking up Mount Everest in a pair of shorts, or sailing solo around Antarctica. Blessed be them.

My threshold of craziness is much lower-- the most unreasonable I get is in the mad-dog pursuit of surf by sailboat.

 Instead of spending Thanksgiving in a cozy living room with the laughter of family, four of us cast off from Avalon harbor in Catalina, and headed 20-some nautical miles into the ocean, under a canopy of dark clouds boiling ahead of a storm.

As we pulled into the navy island of San Clemente, there were no helicopters, or ships with live fire, or other signs of the war machine. The only thing blasting into the island was a huge groundswell.

We anchored in a large cove with swells moving through 40ft of water. Billowing plumes blew off the waves with a south-east wind -- an indicator of an approaching front. Yet, shafts of light shone on the ocean surface, with a thinning cloud cover.

My girlfriend Sabrina looked at me hopefully - maybe it would clear up?  In full disclosure before the trip, I had optimistically said that there was a 50-50 chance we'd get rain. My buddy Alex played along, with his characteristic cheaky grin, "I think we could get lucky - one way or another!"

Chris was less buoyant, and wanted to get down to business: "Are we doing this, or what?" he said, pulling a wetsuit out of the locker. The conditions were stable; this was our chance.

What followed was a magical afternoon. When all the elements come together in surfing, it is deeply gratifying. Tide, wind, swell, light, sea lions, us.  It was one of those blissful moments when everything "lines up".

Isn't this what we are all looking for?  When life seems just right, feeling total connection in an effortless flow, whether for the basketball player "in the zone" or a mother holding her newborn baby; or Alex, in this case, riding through a heaving tube and declaring his trip was already complete.

Back at the boat, Sabrina made a Thanksgiving meal fit for kings. Half a roast turkey in the boat oven, homemade cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and all the trimmings.

In all the baking and exuberance, the sous chefs failed to notice the wind was increasing. When the pitter-patter of rain began on the canopy, Chris unzipped the curtain and looking out into the dark anchorage. The lights of the Navy base were dim in the distance, and he recoiled. "Damn it's cold outside!"

At this point, I had the brilliant idea of firing up our wood-burning stove, which we had just "fixed" the week prior, to my eventual chagrin. That little stove had treated us graciously for years, up until that fateful night.

In a classic moment of not-knowing what you don't know, I had recently fixed the leaky chimney flu with epoxy, as I do with all repairs on the boat. Unfortunately, I forgot to take into account that epoxy catches on fire at a certain temperature.

Suffice to say that I had the opportunity to try the fire extinguisher in a real emergency for the first time. I'm happy to report it worked! Besides cleaning the extinguisher mess, all we had to contend with was 20 minutes of fumes as we aired out the cabin, along with some unwelcome rain as we enjoyed our pumpkin pie.

When the air was clear, we slept with our full tummies and the steady drone of rain, confident in the 66lbs Bruce anchor and 230 feet of chain holding us in place.

A radical change occurred at 10am the next morning, which I thought, was a very civilized hour for the storm to kick into gear.

At that point, the wind shifted and began pushing us towards shore; Aldebaran copping the wind chop on the nose, suddenly turning this peaceful cove into a lee shore, an unprotected anchorage.

The rain had started pounding, but there was no choice -- it was time to go sailin'.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

What makes us feel Alive? thoughts at Little Harbor

Sunset and moonset at Little Harbor in Catalina.

It's when I feel happiest --- when I feel most alive.  But what exactly is this feeling of aliveness..?

Not necessarily when I'm energetic; I can be very calm.  I'm just content and full of life. Aliveness seems to be contagious. Enthusiasm, joy, and beauty in others can raise our energy levels.

Even an incredible vista can send a surge of life into our bodies. Some places seem to be pulsing with life force -- a lush jungle with a harmony of animal noises, a majestically silent desert, or a sheltered cove erupting in sunset colors. 

It is like the writer whose words "come alive" in a piece of paper and turn text into moving stories. 

Aliveness is a key to feeling good and general wellbeing. Yet, we forget about this simple truth when it comes to restoration and recovery. 

A stroke victim - or a landscape ravished by goats - can have a dead and numb feeling. We try to "fix" each of its components that got "broken". Recovery, however, is not about fixing something. It is about creating the right conditions for life to flow back into a person or place, as it naturally wants to. 

How alive and full of vitality do we feel today, compared to our final years in college? Compared to a memorable vacation? Compared to when we saw a humpback whale for the first time? We have a sense of what the answers may be. We may not be able to measure it - but we can try to understand and improve it. 

What affects Aliveness?  Like yin and yang, there are two sides to the coin: 
  1. Lifeforce is the positive, creative side. It is abundance and diversity - whether of animals, of thoughts, or ideas. It is excitement, new technology, and imagination. But... it can also create its anti-thesis, Waste, as we end up with "too much of a good thing".
  2. Waste is the negative, destructive side.  Waste is by definition non-useful and potentially harmful. As a by-product of creative energy, it is a fact of life, and should be accepted. In fact, if managed skillfully, dealing with waste can generate more creativity and Lifeforce, feeding the cycle. Otherwise, it can dramatically reduce Aliveness. 
To feel content and full of life, we need to enhance our opportunities for Lifeforce (e.g. having a meaningful career, having kids, doing exciting things, planting a garden) and we need to wisely manage our Waste (e.g. not over-spending, not over-eating unhealthy foods, having a bad attitude). 

Those same principles are in play - whether we are recovering from trauma or in the restoration of traumatized landscapes. The great thing is that what we learn from one, we can apply to the other. 

Little Harbor Sunset from Kristian Beadle on Vimeo.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Secret Value of Mooring Fields - reflections from Emerald Bay

Like a game of tick-tack-toe, dozens of empty mooring buoys floated in Emerald Bay.

It is an ugly aesthetic - little white balls in orderly rows breaking up the natural beauty. This is my perception, because I'm used to unspoiled anchorages in the other islands.

But herein lies a secret beauty: without a mooring area, all those boats would normally have to drop their anchor and chains, ripping up chunks of reef as the rode swings. If it's a reef, the damage done by dozens of boat anchors on the ocean floor is not trivial.

Therefore the mooring field serves the dual purpose: convenience to boaters and protecting the marine habitat. It allows a large number of boats to visit with minimum impact.

It's a strange conundrum... on the one hand, my perception is that it gives Emerald Bay a stale, "mass-tourism" feel; on the other hand it keeps the marine environment more healthy, and hence preserves its beauty.

It's a case where my subjective opinions are negative, but the overall objective value is positive. Must overlook some perceptions in favor of the underlying value, at times!

Fences protect native species, mooring fields organize boats, and rules keep invasive species from migrating; all which seem un-natural and limiting. But those limits may create a greater life force in the area and enhance its aliveness.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What if Catalina Island could talk?

Risso Dolphins, with characteristic scar patterns on their bodies, seen 1 mile from Avalon harbor in Catalina.
They measure 8-12ft, much heftier than bottlenose dolphins!

What if Catalina Island could talk to you, like an old grandmother sitting under an oak tree?

"Ms. Catalina, I beg your pardon, but what do you want for your future?" you might ask.

"Well, my son, back in the day..." Ms. Catalina would start.

We were anchored north of Avalon near of the summer camps. I thought, for sure Ms. Catalina likes having all these kids around. That is way cool - they are snorkeling, playing, and appreciating her shoreline and canyons.

Ms. Catalina also likes having a few bison roaming around, brought to the island by that one famous movie production. It makes her feel unique. She likes how the island fox is coming back, after nearly being wiped out by a mainland disease. Hey, she even likes having the pretty town of Avalon -- although when their sewage system is leaking and the gas powered golf carts are making noise (as they do daily) she gets a little disgruntled.

Ms. Catalina is as happy and healthy as any other grandmother -- it depends how alive she feels. This is true for any living being - after all, being feeling "alive" is what makes them a "living" being!  If you wonder whether an island is alive or not, think about how much life is pulsating on Catalina.

How alive we feel, or aliveness, directly relates to our health and happiness. Then why is it not well measured in our health system? The same is true for ecology. Maybe aliveness should be measured?

If I had to guess what makes Ms. Catalina feel more or less alive, it's probably similar to what makes me feel more or less alive. That is a hypothesis which I wanted to investigate as I cruised the islands.

Playful barbed wire at the top of Two Harbors, Catalina Island

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Stroke Victims and Islands -- reflections on recovery

Navy facilities on San Clemente Island

Like a middle aged man recovering from a stroke, restoring an island that was eaten up by goats or iceplant is physically demanding. But more-- it brings up deep existentialist questions, which aren't often addressed. 

Our tendency is to go into battle and fixate our resources with singleminded focus --  but if we stopped to ask our bodies or lands what they actually need, would we get different answers?  There are two voices competing for attention:

The Environmentalist Voice
The stroke victim wants to be able to run and swim like he did in the past, at all costs. He wants to preserve his limbs and youthfulness. This is like the voice of the environmentalist, who harkens to the past; determined to restore native habitat and protect species from withering away. He considers wellbeing of nature is intrinsically important, and tied in with the future wellbeing of humans. 

The Conservative Voice
The stroke victim begins to think he should "just move on" to new hobbies and pursuits, and not worry about re-living his past. He wonders if months of physical therapy and special diets are a waste of time - he could just enjoy the life he has. This is similar to the voice of the conservative, who prioritizes progress and moving forward. He thinks spending millions of dollars on restoration is a waste, since it could be allocated to more immediate human uses, not vague ecosystem benefits. 

A Holistic Approach?
The voices seem to contradict one another, but it is in their union that lies strength. 

The environmentalist voice is past driven. It is important because even if we are single-mindedly trying to protect a small salamander which thrived 50 years ago, the benefits expand in multiple ways: better stream water quality, better hiking opportunities, better erosion control, better habitat for other species, etc. The stroke victim, similarly, may not be able to run again like when he was young, but exercising and a good diet will improve his overall health and quality of life. 

The conservative voice is future driven. It is important because accepting new conditions and focusing on immediate human needs prevents stagnation; it keeps the creative force of society moving and improving. Sometimes dumping millions into a stream restoration with bulldozers and delicate natives leads nowhere. Likewise, the stroke victim doesn't want to be forever frustrated that they can't be young again-- moving on with life and cultivating a good attitude is central component to wellbeing. 

The strange thing is that both voices are concerned with our wellbeing -- but employ different perspectives. Every stroke victim needs to listen to his/her own body and limitations at each step of the way, with one foot in the conservative future, and one foot in the environmentalist past.  The recovery of Islands is the same. At the heart of the problem is that we don't tend to listen to what our bodies and lands needs; if we did, we'd hear both voices echoing. 

 If I could talk to the island, what would it really want? How does one listen to islands, or our own bodies, for that matter? How do we figure out the holistic approach to recovery?  These are the mysteries that I set out seeking.

Different crafts co-existing, as the fog rolls into Avalon anchorage, Catalina Island

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Circumnavigating San Clemente Island, part 3

Day 3. 

"Don't anchor anywhere on the east side, you'll put a hole in your boat," said a few lobster guys. "It is deceptively calm and you'll just drive into a rock."

We wanted to spend a night on the lee side of the island. It is a 15 mile expanse of unchanging, flat, intensely bold coastline. Why bother trying to anchor for the night? To get a better feel for the island, the land and its cultural history, I wanted to spend time in that side. Plus, we wanted to break up the 38nm return trip to Avalon, which is a long haul at 6 knots. 
But... the chart shows deep water (100ft+) right next to the cliffs for miles on end. Brian Fagan's cruising guide listed no anchorages. The locals lobstermen advised us against it. The prospects were glum.  

Then we came across this book:  
In "The California Channel Islands", author Marla Daily relates the fascinating history of pioneer ranchers, entrepid businessmen, and hermits.  We read about a German man who lived alone on the east side of San Clemente island for 30 years around the turn of the century. He had a fish camp for anglers and would do tours of native american artifacts. He lived at "Mosquito Cove". That is where we should go. If people visited him regularly, I figured, there must be a good landing site; possibly even a sandy beach. 
The coastline was eerie. The entire east side of the island is a blank wall of cliffs with flat water like a lake. Rocks near the surface show no indication of their presence, through ripples or otherwise, because the sea is so calm. Hence the warning of the lobstermen.  

We found Mosquito Cove by GPS - there was hardly any geographic feature to distinguish it. There was in fact a small cobblestone-sand beach on the shore. We approached with the depth sounder carefully; luckily the visibility was excellent and our watch on the bow could warn of shallow reefs that protruded out of the depths. We anchored in 55ft of water, with just enough distance to shore for our boat to swing. 

Robby with a casserole of chicken enchiladas for lunch
It was ominously silent and strangely claustrophobic. With their mass, the cliffs seemed to dampen any sound -- creating the type of quiet anxiety one might have felt stuck in the still airs of the doldrums while crossing the Atlantic under sail. The ravines cut deep into the land; we imagined the German man living here for decades, and it made me shiver. 

Sunrise anchored at Mosquito Cove
Day 4.

We motored back towards Wilson Cove, where the main Navy base is located (keeping a safe distance of 3nm). Fortified ships drove into the harbor. Trucks drove in meandering roads in the distance, with barracks lining the hillside.

The Northwest anchorage was closed for Navy activity; so we hoisted sail and crossed the channel back to Catalina. We'd have to return to see that last piece of the island, one that looked so intriguing as well.

Diving at Church Rock in Catalina on the return trip

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Circumnavigating San Clemente Island, part 2

Like stumbling into a secret society, just before dark we found a little "village" of lobster boats anchored in the tiny cove in the West side of the San Clemente island.  Deep golden light shone on the massive cliffs.

What a dramatic setting and relief. Up to that point, I had been unsure if there would be a safe anchorage in this cove. The rocks in the chart looked dicey. Would we have to sail another 12 miles and anchor after dark in some unknown beach?  Happily, we surveyed the glassy water, set the hooks, and kayaked over to the lobster guys.

"How did you find this place??" they asked incredulous. I felt proud at following my instinct.  "I heard a rumor from a friend of a friend... I guess you don't see too many cruising boats here?"   The lobster guys grinned, as they ate steak cooked on their outdoor grill with thick BBQ sauce.

DAY 2.
The Navy's giant wind turbines lazily spun in the ridgeline as we sailed to Pyramid Cove, on the southernmost tip of the island. The huge bay is often closed for the Navy to conduct its "live firing exercises"; but the schedule showed a welcoming green for "open". With our binoculars, we could see the odd target on the beach. Large signs on the beach made it clear that landing was prohibited.

So you can have a better idea--  allow me to describe my three crew on board. 

First there is Chris, a lifeguard who is coming for the entire two months, who I described in a previous post. Chris met a few commercial fisherman guys who were dying for candy bars, and ended up  swapping two snickers bars for eight lobsters. "Best deal ever!" he said, happy out of his mind. 


Second is Adam Jankhe, an artist and photog living in Santa Barbara. Intentionally using a print-film camera, he captures the dysfunctional, the trite, the majestic, and weaves it into a super-realistic view of the world. Being in this setting -- a pristine environment with Navy helicopter and bombs -- provides the sort of contrast he absolutely loves. A few of his island photos can be seen on his site.

DCIM132GOPROThird is Robby Seid, who is a traveler, fishes salmon in Alaska, and works in mechanical design. Every time he comes aboard Aldebaran he improves the boat -- whether it's the sunglass line, the guitar rack, or just a roll of non-skid tape. We met on the Oaxaca coast and I'm glad we stayed in touch.

The winds gusting off the land didn't upset Robby- he sprayed himself with soapy water to slide into his ultra-tight camouflage wetsuit. We free dove through the kelp beds with our hawaiian slings and caught a few surf perch for dinner.

We hunkered down inside the cabin as winds howled outside, and the anchor light of a large sailboat swayed behind us.

Kayaking around the west side of San Clemente island
Dolphins join us on the way to Pyramid Cove